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OPINION: With Wanda Barzee’s release, don’t forget Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth Smart during a press conference in Salt Lake City on April 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

OPINION

DRAPER — Wanda Barzee was released from prison today, 15 years after being locked up for her role in the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.

Nobody is resting easy tonight. When Elizabeth Smart was dragged out of her bedroom at knifepoint, it captivated the nation. We watched every second of the story, from her capture to the search to her miraculous rescue.

I think that’s why we all have such strong feelings about this story. A lot of horrible things happen, but this one was a part of our lives. We want answers.

There are going to be a lot of articles about this story. There will be people talking about whether Barzee got off too easily, or whether we’re doing enough to keep her from hurting someone again.

But in all the voices that are going to be chiming in on this one, there’s one we really need to listen to. We need to listen to the woman who knows Wanda Barzee better than anyone. And that’s Elizabeth Smart.

Elizabeth Smart doesn’t feel safe

A photo taken on March 13, 2003 of Elizabeth Smart with her father Edward and mother Lois after she had reunited with her family. (Photo: Tom Smart, Deseret News, File)

The nightmare of nightmares for a parent is to have a child stolen. The Smart family has lived through that. They’ve seen their child get pulled out of her own bed at knifepoint, dragged off and repeatedly abused. They’ve lived through the worst horror imaginable, and the miracle of seeing their child come home, safe again.

This is something that truly will never leave Elizabeth Smart’s life. Victims who go through this kind of trauma have to live through it again and again. But on a day like today, when the woman who tortured her is walking free, that trauma is unimaginable.

Elizabeth Smart is an incredible young woman. I have never seen a woman like her before: a victim who has lived through such a horrific experience, but who has turned into an opportunity to become such a great champion for children everywhere.

She is one of the bravest women alive. But she’s telling us, as clearly and as plainly as she can, that she doesn’t feel safe:

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The past few days could certainly be described as shocking. Only a couple months ago I was informed one of my captors, Wanda Barzee, would not be released until 2024. Now she will be released in less than a week. I find this news greatly disturbing and incomprehensible. In my efforts to learn more it seems there are no viable legal options open to me at this time. So it is now that I ask those that have the power, and her family to start proceedings to have her be civilly committed. To my knowledge she has neither complied with medication or treatment and as some one who has experienced first hand just how depraved she truly is, I believe her to be a threat and a danger not just to myself but to the community, any vulnerable person. I am very concerned and precautions have been taken however I refuse to live in fear. I have spent the last 15 years rebuilding and moving forward with my life, having a family, and pursuing my goals. I lived in absolute fear and terror for nine months, no matter the outcome I will not do so again.

A post shared by Elizabeth Smart (@elizabeth_smart_official) on

She is only 30 years old. She’s a young woman, just starting a family of her own. She is the young mother to two children, and now she has to watch as this woman who tortured her for nine months walks free.

Wanda Barzee got off too easy

Wanda Barzee during her sentencing on May 21, 2010 in Salt Lake City. (Photo: Al Hartmann, Pool, File)

Wanda Barzee wasn’t just an innocent bystander. She was there for the whole nine months of Elizabeth Smart’s capture. She made sure she didn’t escape when Brian David Mitchell was away. She cheered him on while he abused her.

Wanda Barzee was guilty. Nobody questions that. But despite all the horrible things she did to that little girl, and while Brian David Mitchell was locked away for life, Barzee only got 15 years in prison.

She wasn’t let go because she was innocent or because she was less dangerous than Mitchell. We know that for a fact. We got the chance to speak to state prosecutor Kent Morgan and he told us exactly why Barzee was released so early:

“Because she plead guilty. And that’s part of our criminal justice system. If you’re going to fight it… you’re going to get a worse sentence.”

Elizabeth Smart during a news conference in Salt Lake City. Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Yes, Wanda Barzee is going to be registered as a sex offender, and, yes, she is going to be under federal supervision for the next five years. But let’s be honest about what that really means.

Wanda Barzee is going to be checking in with a federal agent once each month. She’ll be the one responsible for that. There will be no ankle monitor checking where she goes.

Elizabeth Smart has told us who this woman is, and we need to listen. We need to make sure that there are people watching her and making sure she doesn’t do something like this again.

But to be honest, I don’t think any plea deal would have made me happy for this case. The only sentence Wanda Barzee should have gotten was the one she deserved: life behind bars.

Our coverage

Dave Noriega is the co-host of Dave & Dujanovic, heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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